Hermanos Martinez Cooperative: A Microcosm Of The Agrarian Reform
On this fourth anniversary of the revolution, what has been thus far the most significant gain of the revolution? The answer is evident: the agrarian reform. The “Martinez Brothers” cooperative in Somoto is a hope-inspiring example of agrarian reform.
Somoto is the last stop in Nicaragua on the Pan American highway before reaching Honduras. As the capital of Madriz, Somoto functioned as a way station for the large farm owners and cattle raisers. Remnants of the past can still be seen in the city as cars compete for the road with horses, mules and oxen.
Like the majority of cities in Nicaragua, Somoto depends on agriculture. But in this area, as in the rest of the country, the campesino was forgotten. Today, four years into the Revolution, the campesinos are beginning to take their rightful place in society and the life of the country.
As the fourth anniversary of the Revolution nears, many visitors to the country ask what has been the single greatest achievement of the Revolution. Invariably, the answer is the Agrarian Reform. To highlight this truth, the Institute staff visited Somoto and one of the many successes of the Agrarian Reform the Hermanos Martinez Cooperative.
THIS LAND IS OURSA Cooperative of VisionariesSeven kilometers east of Somoto is the beautiful, fertile, San Luis Valley. Nestled in the hills of Somoto are 3,400 acres of prime agricultural land. Yesterday, those lands lay dormant, wild cattle roamed searching for food, no harvests were recorded. Today, the peaceful pastoral scene has been disturbed and the change is dynamic.
From the top of the hill before descending into the San Luis Valley, a beehive of activity is clearly visible. Houses are being constructed, roads are being laid, fields are being tilled. A sign at the entrance welcomes you to the Hermanos Martinez Cooperative. You are greeted, not by one of the Martinez brothers, whose story you later learn, but by the general secretary of the cooperative, Fernando Sanchez Roman. With great pride, Fernando and the production secretary, Brigido Garcia Montalban show you around their town.
Neat wooden houses line the newly laid streets. A child care center is half built, a children's dining room is also going up. Tents serve the need for a school right now so that the children will not miss class until their school is built. A whole section of the town is laid out for a park. Barely visible five-inch trees are protected from small children and animals by a circle of poles. Only a visionary could say as our guides did, "And here is our park."
Yet, the men and women we met were visionaries. How else do you explain that in only six months’ time, the makings of a new town are clearly visible? "When we arrived here in December of 1982, there was nothing," Fernando told us, "it was just a big piece of land. The tasks before us were enormous. But our biggest incentive was knowing that this land is ours.''
On June 4, 1983, the Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Jaime Wheelock, gave the 143 members of the Hermanos Martinez Cooperative the Agrarian Reform Title for their 1,511 acres of land.
A Cooperative of WorkersWe stopped along the way to talk to the construction brigades. We saw at least four separate teams working, some laying foundations, others building walls, while others worked on the roofs. Six months ago this type of construction work was unknown. Carpenters trained the construction teams until now they are able to work by themselves.
The kitchen was a busy scene as a team was preparing the children's noon day meal. It is no easy task satisfying the hungry appetites of 314 children, but the women seemed to have it well under control. There are still nine cases of malnutrition among the children, but these children are being given special diets. Planning ahead to feed so many is still a problem, but a Social Services representative was working with the women not only to help them make the right calculations, but also to aid them in planning nutritious meals.
But the highlight of the visit was going to see the fields. On the way we passed by the Coco River and we saw the well which serves the community with potable water. Water is still a problem in the community as the well is located a few hundred meters from the town itself. But according to PRONORTE (an inter-ministerial agency responsible for the project), the water situation was a priority item.
As we rounded the corner from the well, the fields stretched out before us. This year the cooperative had planted 104 acres of land: 68 acres were sown with corn and 36 acres had beans. Three teams were out doing the weeding which, with the recent rains, seemed to be growing faster than both the corn and the beans.
Another team was walking the rows spraying insecticide.
During our visit, the community decided that they would hold a general meeting that night and suggest that all the members, including the children, devote two full days to weeding the fields, so that the crops would not be lost.
In August, these crops will be harvested and will be used by the community. Then, in order not to let the land lie idle, tomatoes, radishes, celery and cabbage will be planted, which will also go for the needs of the community. Next year it is hoped that more acreage will be planted and, with the construction finished, more people will be able to work the fields. This would insure not only that the cooperative will be able to supply most of its own food needs, but that they will also be able to sell their surplus on the national market.
FROM FOUR SCATTERED COMMUNITIES TO A COOPERATIVEPoor land and under "Contra" attackOnly six months ago, the campesinos who now live in San Luis and work the 1,511 acres of land lived in four small communities (El Roble, El Terreno, El Gavilan and El Naranjo). These were only 7 kilometers from the Honduran border. The inhabitants of these towns were very poor, as were most campesinos. They had worked their whole lives for a land owner or owned tiny plots of poor land which hardly produced enough for them to survive.
After the July ’79 victory, the members of each community formed cooperatives, but the land was just as bad as ever. Also, the counterrevolutionaries based in Honduras did not allow them to live in peace.
“We came here because the 'Contra' constantly threatened the communities where we lived,” said Sanchez Roman. "In our area alone, they slit the throats of 18 of our compañeros. They killed a Delegate of the Word, children, women, adult education coordinators and militia members. These crimes were committed between 1980 and 1981."
Brigido Garcia, another member, added: "Life was difficult there. They attacked us daily. We had to watch out all the time. We had to look out for them at night yet work during the day. There were times when we were so exhausted we couldn't work because we always had to be on guard. Our work fell further and further behind."
The cooperative's name, "Hermanos Martinez" reflects the story of these campesinos. "The Martinez brothers were born in Honduras, but they came here to work when they were very young. They were very committed to the work they did in our community. But Tuesday, July 23, 1980, they were massacred by the ‘Contra’. One of them was a Delegate of the Word. The settlement is named after them because of their commitment. The Contra killed the two brothers and one of their little sons." Thus spoke vice secretary, Sabas Lopez Vazquez.
An Idea is BornThe proximity of these communities to the border made it difficult to insure the campesinos' safety. It was apparent that they would never improve their living conditions because of their isolation and the poor quality of the land there. A decision had to be made.
"Things were going badly for us," relates Leonicio Lopez. "In a few of the UNAG (National Union of Farmers and Cattle Raisers) pamphlets, we read that the agrarian reform would give the best land to campesinos who were willing to work it. So, we called everybody together. We asked the Agrarian Reform for land and we came to see it. When we returned to our communities, we told everyone how rich the land was. We said that it was a valley and that there was a river nearby. Surely, this was the promised land. But it was a real struggle to get everyone to come. It wasn't simply a matter of telling people about it and having them all come; we had to motivate them. Little by little, folks began to understand and they came to look around. One by one, people decided to move. We began to clear the land and improvise a small kitchen. Social welfare gave us corn, beans, cooking oil and pans. The Red Cross put up tents because the only thing we'd brought with us was a blanket. We hadn't even brought corn. The Ministry of Agriculture and the border patrol troops lent us vehicles for the move itself. That's how this all started."
AGRARIAN REFORM: THE FULCRUM OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
The Agrarian Reform Law has two main objectives:
To change the structure of land holding.
To consolidate the cooperative movement.
Agrarian TransformationUnder Somoza, 1% of the population owned 49% of the cultivated land, while 71% held a scarce 2%. Yet, 70% of the Nicaraguan population are campesinos, and 75% of the country's foreign exchange comes from agroexports. Thus it was logical that after the Revolution most of the human and material resources be used to transform agriculture and meet the campesino demands.
Although the process of transformation is slow, there have been significant accomplishments. In the State of the Nation address, on May 4, 1983, Daniel Ortega noted that: "To date, titles for 255,000 acres of land have been given to cooperatives and/or individual producers. More than 8,000 campesino families have benefited."
Because of the Agrarian Reform, campesinos now own 19% of the cultivated land, the State owns 20% and private owners have 61%. Eventually campesinos should own 30% of the land.
The consolidation of the cooperative movementTo date, there are 3,057 cooperatives with a total of 60,044 members. This means that 50% of the country's small and medium producers are part of the cooperative movement.
There are four kinds of cooperatives:
1) Production Cooperatives Sandinista Agricultural Cooperatives (CAS)
These cooperatives work collectively to produce and to market their crops. They are formed by small and medium producers who pool the means of production, their labor and/or any other goods granted by the State.
2) Credit and Services Cooperatives (CCS)
These cooperatives are formed by small and medium producers who join together to promote, negotiate, channel and use agricultural extension services in an orderly and effective fashion. Each member retains private ownership, use and designation of land and means of production.
3) Dead Furrow Cooperatives (CSM)
These are established on land assigned by the State or contributed by the members. The land and the principal means of production are collective. There are no fences or other obstacles to limit the use of an adequate technology.
4) Work Collectives (CT)
These groups are formed mainly by seasonal workers who use lands provided by the state through a formal agreement.
Vanguard CooperativesGiven the growth of the cooperative movement and the country's scarce technical resources, the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform decided to select, from among the 3,000 cooperatives, the 500 best organized ones in the 35 key areas of agricultural development. These 500, called vanguard cooperatives, receive more attention in all areas.
The "Hermanos Martinez" Cooperative, a CAS cooperative, is a vanguard cooperative. Their spirit of dedication to working together and their level of organization have made them a model.
In the context of Nicaragua's current military emergency, a new type of cooperative has arisen, the self defense cooperative. Each of these cooperatives assumes the responsibility for defending its small community, except in the event of a massive counterrevolutionary invasion, in which case the army would step in. In the "Hermanos Martinez" Cooperative, of the 143 members, 70 are trained to defend the community from any counterrevolutionary attack or sabotage attempt.
A MICROCOSM OF THE AGRARIAN REFORMHow the Cooperative WorksThe cooperative's work is based on the active participation of all its members. This communal spirit is reflected in the cooperative's organizational structure, in its directorate and in its method of operation. The directorate is composed of the general secretary, the vice secretary and those in charge of production finances, education and defense. The concrete work of the cooperative is organized by work commissions, with different tasks assigned to each commission.
"In the assembly, we decide what has to be done, and based on this, commissions are formed. Every adult belongs to a commission, and thus everyone has a job to do," explained the general secretary. "What one person doesn't know how to do, another one does. This is like a big school where we not only learn new work methods, but also how to work together."
There are currently 7 commissions in the "Hermanos Martinez" Cooperative:
The largest is production, which is in charge of growing basic grains and, in the near future, vegetables and hay.
Housing construction builds the houses for the settlement and the children's dining hall. There are also plans to build a children's center, a school, a church, offices for UNAG and PRONORTE, a bank, a health clinic, a community hall, a popular store and militia headquarters.
Health currently has 7 members trained to deal with sanitation problems. They also supervise latrine construction and coordinate the children's diet with the cooking commission and social welfare.
Cattle looks after the almost 200 head of cattle owned by individual members of the cooperative.
- Cooking prepares breakfast and lunch each day for the 314 children who eat in the dining hall. The person in charge of Social Welfare in Somoto supervises the work and trains the women in this commission.
Defense is made up of 70 militia members, who rotate shifts to defend the cooperative from possible attack.
- Adult education has l8 coordinators who teach in 18 Popular Education Collectives (CEPs). When the cooperative was formed, the CEPs began, as 60% of the adults were still illiterate. Now, 5 days a week before sunset, classes are held.
A Testimony"My name is Rosa Emilia Lopez. I have 5 children and am 39 years old. I used to live in Las Canobas, a community right next to Honduras. That was where my husband was killed. He was in the militia. They ambushed him right near the house. He fought for two hours, then they closed in. He was found dead and naked. They had taken off all his clothes.
When I was informed of his death, I got myself and the kids ready and went to look for him. Just as my neighbors had said, he was dead and it was him. He was really poor, just a campesino. But he was a very good man.
Here we feel all right, because we don't have to worry like we did there. After 6 p.m. we had to go and sleep in the woods. I was afraid. I didn't feel safe in the house any more. Everyone went to sleep in the woods. Here, we sleep soundly. And I'm glad, because I came here to rest, after so many sleepless nights, after suffering for so long. The children suffered most of all.
I thank the Lord that we left those parts, so that my children can be safe and study. I'm happy because even I'm struggling to make out words, to learn letters and syllables. Really happy. I'm in the first level of adult education classes. First time in my life I'm learning these things."
The Hardest PartThe most difficult thing the members of the cooperative had to learn was not how to build a school or drive a tractor, but how to live and work together.
Luis Leonicio Lopez recalls that at first, some people wanted to build their houses away from the rest and work their land individually. "We've been pretty attached to individualism, and that's one of the problems we still have here. It's important that we realize it and admit it. When a compañero wants a separate plot, the directorate meets and convokes the general assembly, where everyone's opinion is asked. We ask them what they think, whether an individual can get a separate plot, whether we should work individually. Then the majority says no, we work collectively. So it is the assembly that solves this problem."
Fernando Sanchez added: "But it's important not to discourage these compañeros. We should all learn from the experience. We show the person who wants to walk alone that if he gets sick, all of us working together will look after his corn. If he's alone, however, he'll lose the corn. If three or four compañeros get sick, we continue clearing and building whatever's needed. People are beginning to understand this. It's a good start."
The Land is our mother: It must be cared for and defendedUpon receipt of the Agrarian Reform land titles, the campesinos began to feel as if they were somebody with an integral, role to play in the development of their country. At that point the "country" became that plot of land. And the campesinos became aware that by having land, they acquired new rights and responsibilities.
"It is an important and major step forward for us to have our own land. From this land we will get our shoes, our clothes, our truck and even our horse. Everything comes from the fruit of the land. We didn't used to have anything. Today we feel proud and strong. Here we don't say 'I work.' We say, 'We all work together, men and women both.’”
Sabas Lopez added: "There's no way we'd leave this land. Ever since we uprooted ourselves from the border and started a new life here, we've joined together and said in unison that we would die first. So, you think we'd leave this land? No way! Never! The land is our mother: it must be cared for and defended."